Friday, July 26, 2013

Nearly-out-of-Provisions Stew

Keeping enough food in the larder on remote lighthouses was a problem before powerboats and helicopters came into being. Lightkeepers at places like Boon Island, pictured below, could run out of food if bad weather prolonged the wait for a quarterly visit from the lighthouse tender, the ship responsible for delivering supplies to the keepers. Book Island Light stands on a pile of rocks nine miles off the New Hampshire coast. Nine miles may not seem a long distance (the mainland is in view in the background of the picture), but in the days before modern means of travel, it may as well have been 900 miles from shore. Entries in the Boon Island logbook in the nineteenth century sometimes mentioned dwindling food supplies or a meal made from a duck that slammed into the lantern.

Below is a tongue-in-cheek recipe given to me years ago by a lighthouse keeper stationed on an offshore lighthouse on the North Sea, England. It illustrates the problem of an empty pantry and no supply ship in sight, and also the attention given to fairness. Note the two keepers get equal shares, as do the lighthouse dog and cat--

Into a big pot of boiling water, drop:
  • the last potato, diced neatly
  • the last onion, chopped fine
  • parsley flakes from the bottom of the spice jar
  • 1 of the 3 turnips that washed ashore form last week's shipwreck, whole
  • enough salt to fill a thimble
  • dumplings made from the last cup of flour and last dab of lard
  • 1 seagull egg found in the beach grass; hard-boil it in the stew
  • 1 dead duck that slammed into the light tower last night, picked and cleaned
  • duck giblets--heart, gizzard, liver
Boil everything for several hours. Scoop out the duck and clean the meat off its carcass. Divide meat into two bowls. Remove the turnip and cut it in half, one piece for yourself and the other for the assistant lightkeeper, and place the halves in the bowls. Do the same with the hardboiled seagull egg. Remove the duck giblets and divide in half between the bowls. Ladle stew into the bowls, being careful to give equal onion, potato, and dumpling to each bowl. If any soda crackers remain in the cracker can, place one alongside each bowl. Finally, divide the duck carcass and entrails in half and place in bowls on the floor. Yell to the assistant keeper, the dog, and the cat: "Dinner is served!"

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